Even five years after its initial release, the mega-popular Geolocation AR title Pokémon Go is still going from strength to strength. As of 2024, the nostalgia-inducing mobile application from American software developer Niantic is currently ranked number seven on the Android top-grossing games chart, with its longevity being a testament to its unprecedented success.
Interestingly, shortly after its release, many people were quick to dismiss Pokémon Go as a fad, assuming that after the novelty of the pioneering augmented reality technology wore off, the app would slip away into obscurity. How wrong the skeptics were.
Just last year, Pokémon Go was one of the most popular free-to-play (FTP) games globally, generating approximately $1.92 billion in revenue, which was its most lucrative year to date. Even in the age of mobile gaming industry supremacy, these are impressive feats. So, what’s the secret to their success? Let’s find out.
In many ways, it’s hard to overstate just how much of an overnight success Pokémon Go was when it was first launched. Within just seven days of its release date in July 2016, the mobile application had been downloaded over ten million times worldwide, reflecting the huge anticipation surrounding Nintendo’s maiden foray into mobile gaming. Fast forward to September of the same year; the global download count hit a dizzying 500 million.
If you are one of the few people left who has never played Pokémon Go, it’s a location-based augmented reality (AR) game where you use your smartphone to capture, train, and battle virtual creatures (Pokémon) in real-world environments. The game creates this augmented reality by combining GPS data with the user’s mobile device camera, allowing players to capture Pokémon in physical locations.
For the most part, this means that players have to get out on foot and explore new areas to progress their journey, which was a revolutionary idea at the time. Seeing as most games are played from the comfort of a sofa, the “explore the real world” aspect of this one was a big reason why so many experts were skeptical about how the title would be received.
However, it’s safe to say that the trend caught on in a pretty quick fashion. So much so that by the end of 2016, Pokémon Go players walked 8.7 million km collectively, which is enough to get to the end of the Solar System. With all that said, let’s look at some of the key factors that have kept the game relevant even half a decade after its release.
Amazingly, Pokémon is currently the highest-grossing media franchise of all time ($92.121 billion), which sets its head and shoulders above some media behemoths such as Star Wars and even The Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Starting as an electronic gaming series for Nintendo back in 1996, the Pokémon franchise quickly became an international phenomenon that captured the attention of millions of youths around the world. After various mega-successful spin-offs such as its cartoon series, movies, merchandise, and trading card game, the Pokémon brand truly dominated the media franchise industry, and anything the brand released was almost certain to be an instant hit.
In many ways, this is one of the key reasons why Pokémon Go was (and still is) such a huge success. Right from the get-go, there were millions of people around the world who were eager to go Pokémon-hunting, and it clearly stoked some nostalgic fires in people who had fond memories of the game as a child.
With that said, the title also appealed to even younger generations, who were excited to play the game just as those who initially played the original game were back in 1996. According to data from 2016, over 40 percent of the adults who download the app are older than 25.
Since the game’s release, Niantic has remained highly active, releasing new updates, events, and app developments to keep things fresh for players – whether it’s something as straightforward as a new set of missions to accomplish by completing specific tasks or the introduction of a few new creatures to hunt down.
Niantic also just raised the game’s maximum level, giving users who maxed out years ago, when Pokémania was at its peak, an incentive to return and play for additional experience points.
It’s also worth mentioning that the game has done a fantastic job of adapting when necessary. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns that occurred throughout the world, Pokémon Go made adjustments to its systems to make it simpler for gamers to stay at home and capture Pokémon without the need to go outside. To do this, Niantic altered gym locations, enabled remote raid passes, and introduced daily automated objectives, which gave people another reason to keep coming back.
Last but not least, Niantic has made increasing efforts to add new social features to the game and further foster a sense of community between players.
Just last year, they rolled out Niantic Social. The new feature acts as a platform where friends playing Pokémon Go can interact with each other, allowing them to play together, compare various stats, and compete for rewards. This level of social engagement within Pokémon Go is crucial to its longevity. It creates a sense of competitiveness, improves the gaming experience, motivates users, builds a strong sense of community, and, most importantly, boosts conversion, and saves costs on user acquisition.
Niantic even hosts real-world events that allow fellow trainers to meet in person at designated locations across the globe, providing a huge networking opportunity where they can catch and battle with new Pokémon while bonding with other attendees.
As the global pandemic comes to a close, there’s a good possibility that Pokémon Go will experience a massive revenue boost once again, as the game continues to be a global hit and tops the top-grossing game’s rankings.
Image Source: Pokémon Go/Niantic/Nintendo